Passion for art fuels calling
Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Dana Elliott of Buckin Buckarette guitar straps displays a custom ordered guitar strap she made for country singer Ashley McBryde.
After spending 20-plus years at Warnock Foods in Madera, Dana Elliott began thinking of what was next for her in life.
“I left a career in 2012,” she said. “After that, I was wondering what I was going to do.”
That wondering turned into tinkering, which turned into work on leather, which turned into guitar straps and now Elliott’s Buckinbuckarette Leather is known throughout the country music industry for its straps.
“I could draw since I could hold a pencil,” Elliott said. “I started tinkering with staining on leather. That wasn’t quite fulfilling. I wasn’t satisfied with that. I had someone from Riata Ranch Cowboy girls, a trick rider, message me to make a bridal collar for her horse for a performance. She wanted it tooled. I told her I would get back to her. I self-taught myself. I watched videos on YouTube. I got some scrap leather and started drawing on leather. I bought a swivel knife to cut. I got some bevelers. I started cutting the leather, beveling it, painting it and one thing led to another.”
That one thing led to a belt, which then led to country music singer Mitchell Tenpenny responding to her belts on her Instagram (@buckinbuckarette)“I thought that was cool and clicked on it,” Elliott said. “I messaged him and asked him if he would like to have a guitar strap made. I didn’t hear anything for a couple of weeks. He messaged me back. He didn’t see the message and we got to talking. I convinced him I wasn’t crazy and I was legit and not a crazy fan. He accepted me to make a guitar strap. When I made that first guitar strap and shipped it to him, I had no idea of what would happen. He did a shout out on his Instagram and it just exploded.”
Since that first strap in 2016, Elliott has made more than 80 straps for some of country music’s famous singers including Frankie Ballard, Luke Combs, Blake Shelton and Rodney Atkins.
“It’s humbling,” she said. “I live up in Raymond and my art studio is in my loft. Who would have thought I would be making guitar straps all over the world? It’s nuts where it started and where it is now. It’s exciting. I’ve become personal friends with several of the musicians.”
Elliott took some art classes in school, but her art went on the backburner when she had children. After son Randy Ware and daughter Ashley Ware graduated from Madera High and daughter Shelby Elliott from Madera South, Dana went back to her art.
“My passion for art goes back to when I was a little girl,” Elliott said. “ I used to be at my great grandfather’s house in Illinois and used to sketch eyes. My mom thought there was something wrong with me.
“Then, I got married, had kids, so it went on the back burner. Then, 2012 came and my career was over with. I was thinking what am I going to do now. I’m basically retired. I said I needed to do something for me. That’s when another calling came. At first, it was a hobby and I though it was going to be a fun deal. Now, it’s become the love of my life.”
After making that first guitar strap in 2016, former NFL player Tony Scheffler, a friend of Tenpenny’s, direct messaged Elliott to do a strap for his friend.
“He was looking for someone to make his friend a guitar strap for a long time,” she said. “He was trying to find that certain person and he told me I was it. He asked to call me and talk to me. At the time, I didn’t know who he was. I looked him up and realized he was legit. He called me and talked about my price. He didn’t tell me who it was for. It didn’t matter. I don’t gouge these artists. I make my money. He paid it right away.”
When Elliott found out who she was making the strap for, it’s an understatement to say she flipped out.
“He sent me the album cover of who I was making the strap for and it was Frankie Ballard,” she said. “I about flipped my lid. I went out on our porch and said a few choice words. I went nuts.”
Scheffler gave the strap to Ballard as a wedding gift and now Elliott is known in Nashville as the “Strap Lady.”
“Luke Combs’ manager messaged me and I made one for him,” she said. “I’m working on his fourth guitar strap. Ashley McBryde is another. Some are up-and-coming artists, but a majority are ones that have made it. I made one for Blake Shelton. I made a guitar strap for Jesse Larson, a Voice contestant. They liked my work and contacted me to make Blake one for his bar Ole Red. Blake doesn’t wear it, but I’m hoping to see it hanging in his restaurant.”
Although she is known for her guitar straps, she does other leatherwork, including rodeo horse tacks, wallets, purses and belts.
“I posted stuff on Instagram and Facebook,” she said. “I don’t have a website. I’m booked until after the first of the year. If I get a website, there’s no way I would keep up.”
What keeps people coming to Elliott is what she puts on the strap. She goes into great detail to find out what would the artist want on their strap. One of her favorite stories is a strap she made for Rodney Atkins.
“A lot of the musicians say I create their story on their strap.” she said. “It personalizes it to them and it’s touching to them. I’ve done straps when they’ve lost loved ones. To see that emotion, face-to-face, when I’ve hand-delivered them is great. In May, I hand-delivered a strap to Rodney Atkins in Turlock. It was a surprise from his wife, Rose. I put symbols on there that meant something about his two boys and a rose for his wife. When I walked out to the bus, he didn’t know who I was. Rose came off the bus and she introduced me to him. He’s so down-to-Earth. It’s crazy. When I meet these people and they are selling out arenas around the world, they are so down-to-Earth. When I pulled his guitar strap out, he held his chest and asked if it was for him. He said he never had anybody do this for him. I’m thinking how you haven’t had something like this that means so much to you. When he saw the symbols for his sons, I thought he was going to cry. Those are the things that money can’t replace, when you see their reaction.”
Elliott gets paid for her guitar straps, but she said the perks of doing the job are pretty cool, as well.
“I’ll go to these shows in the audience so I can see how the strap looks,” she said. “I’ve been invited to be on stage, which I do. The perks are great. I’m personal friends with Luke Combs’ mom and she calls me almost every Sunday. She calls me to fill the void of my late grandmother. It’s cool she takes time out of her busy schedule to talk to me.”
The timeline for a strap is usually 3-4 days depending on how many hours Elliott puts into the work. Also, how much art she has to create takes up more time. When she is done, she takes her work to Raymond General to get them photographed before sending them out.
“Sometimes they give me a sketch of what they want and it helps me,” she said. “It takes a couple of days off of designing it. They give me ideas about what to put on the strap. Some call me and talk to me. Then, I’ll have sleepless nights. I’ll come up with an idea in the middle of the night. I work from 12-15-hour- days, depending on what I’m working on. If I work on one strap, I can have it done and finished by the third day. That’s working 12-hour days on it. I went to Raymond General and started laying my work on the bar to take photos. When I started posting photos, I started getting comments about the bar and the art. Some know the Raymond General as where I take pictures of the straps.”
Elliott’s work is all custom-made and is done from word-of-mouth and social media. She has Facebook and Instagram pages, but she is booked until next year when it comes to her work.
“I finally found that niche, especially when I started the guitar strap, that passion overwhelms me when I make one,” she said.